News / Americas

    Colombia Congress Vote Almost Assures Santos Lead in Presidential Ballot

    Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos (2nd R) accompanied by his wife Maria Clemencia Rodriguez (C) and children Martin (L), Maria Antonia (2ndL) and Esteban (R) walk before a vote during a congressional election in Bogota, March 9, 2014.
    Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos (2nd R) accompanied by his wife Maria Clemencia Rodriguez (C) and children Martin (L), Maria Antonia (2ndL) and Esteban (R) walk before a vote during a congressional election in Bogota, March 9, 2014.
    Reuters
    Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos heads into presidential elections for a second consecutive term with his lead all but certain -- even while seats for his ruling coalition were trimmed in a congressional vote that cemented his fiercest rival as the main opposition, results showed on Monday.

    With most of Sunday's congressional vote counted, Santos' backers had won enough seats in the Senate and lower house to support ongoing peace talks with Marxist FARC rebels and provide a snapshot of national support for the center-right president.

    One-time ally turned rival, former President Alvaro Uribe became the biggest opposition force in the legislature, winning 19 seats in the Senate for his Democratic Center party - including one for himself - against 21 for Santos' U Party. In the lower house, the U won 37 seats against Uribe's 12.

    Despite losing clout from his coalition in congress, the result bolstered confidence among Santos' backers that he could win a second term in presidential elections on May 25.

    “We can win in the first round,” said Sergio Diaz Granados, head of Santos' U Party. “Peace is what will help generate employment, improve security and advance the social reforms the country needs.”

    Although right-wing Uribe garnered a large chunk of support in congress, it may be tough to transfer that backing to his presidential candidate, former finance minister Oscar Ivan Zuluaga.

    Zuluaga has struggled to gain momentum against Santos, picking up 10.8 percent of the vote in a recent Gallup poll against 34.7 percent for the president. A candidate needs to win more than 50 percent of the ballot to avoid a runoff in June.

    Still, Uribe's presence thins Santos' support for steering reforms through the legislature and may complicate the implementation of a peace deal with FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, if talks succeed.

    With almost 99 percent of votes counted, 62-year-old Santos' center-right U Party emerged the single biggest party in both congressional houses.

    But counting all the seats that make up his coalition - the Conservative, Liberal, Radical Change and U parties - Santos lost some clout.

    Santos wants a second term to allow him time to complete negotiations with the FARC that could end a war that has killed more than 200,000 and transform Colombia's political makeup if the rebels' gain the political participation they seek.

    Uribe, 61, is a bitter critic of the government who believes the FARC should instead be beaten militarily. His party likely will seek to obstruct legislation if a peace deal is reached that would enable FARC rebels to enter the political system without serving considerable jail time.

    Santos called on Uribe to put aside the “hatred” and work in congress for good of the nation.

    “There was a very important signal sent to the nation and the whole world, that grand majority of Colombians want peace,” Santos said late on Sunday after the results were revealed.

    The secretive peace talks reached a partial accord late last year on the FARC's participation in politics, a highly controversial item on the five-point agenda. Any deal with the rebels would be put to the nation in a referendum, and then to congress to devise laws for its implementation.

    Despite slow but encouraging progress at the negotiations in Cuba's capital Havana that began in late 2012, the decision to engage in peace talks with the guerrillas remains divisive and will be pivotal in voters' choice of president in May.

    Uribe became the de facto opposition and Santos' fiercest critic shortly after backing him for office in 2010.

    The two fell out when Santos mended ties with Venezuela's then-President Hugo Chavez, who had engaged in a diplomatic tussle with Uribe for years. The acrimony worsened when Santos announced peace talks with the FARC, seen as a terrorist group by the United Sates and the European Union.

    “Compatriots, today the Democratic Center Party was born. It won't waver before terrorism,” Uribe said on his Twitter account.

    Colombia, a recipient of hundreds of million of dollars in annual U.S. anti-narcotics aid, has fought the FARC, right-wing paramilitaries and a smaller rebel group, the ELN, since 1964. More than 200,000 people have died and millions have been displaced.

    Santos is expected to reveal soon that the ELN will also start peace talks with his government, which is likely to give a further boost to his chances of securing another term.

    Santos will also need backing in congress to pass reforms that would help bolster Colombia's $350 billion economy, create new jobs and cut the poverty rate, which affects about half the nation's population of 47 million.

    You May Like

    Mother of IS Supporter: Son Was Peaceful, 'Role Model'

    Somali-American Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State militants

    Factions Shift as Civilians Die in Syrian War

    Scenario likely only to further confuse military situation on ground and potentially worsen humanitarian crisis that already has grown to epic proportions

    Presidential Hopefuls Woo Minorities, Evangelicals

    Four GOP candidates to speak at forum at Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortagei
    X
    February 12, 2016 7:31 PM
    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    More Americas News

    More than 5,000 Pregnant Colombian Women Infected With Zika Virus

    Total number of people diagnosed in Colombia has reached 31,555, the National Health Institute says in its Epidemiology Bulletin, among them 5,013 pregnant women

    Pope-Patriarch Meeting Seen by Russians as Significant

    Meeting in Havana on Friday between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill was the first between the two church's leaders

    The Internet Comes to Cuba ... Slowly

    Smartphones prevalent, but only to make or receive calls, as mobile Internet access severely limited to certain areas; restriction has its charms, some say

    Daily Flights Between US, Cuba Planned for Later this Year

    Agreement to be signed Tuesday in Havana allowing up to 110 flights a day; US law prohibiting travel to Cuba for tourist activities remains in effect

    Cuba's Organic Honey Exports Create Buzz

    Organic honey joins list of country's key agricultural exports, as pesticide use has been linked to declining bee populations elsewhere

    Colombia's ELN Rebels Declare 72-hour Lockdown

    Move, set to begin on Sunday, will restrict transport and commerce amid signs of further delays in their efforts to begin peace talks